Thursday, April 24, 2008

Barley and Beetroot Salad

Growing up in Australia barbecues were a quintessential thread in the fabric of life. The prospect still makes my heart sing. Fresh air, sunshine and a smoke tinged breeze. The meat is the centrpiece as it cooks but the true essence of bbq is all the accompaniments - salads and bread and bowls of prawns to shell and eat with a drink while you wait for the main event.

London is less conducive to barbecue - the weather can't be trusted for a start and living as we do in a flat in a terrace at the beginning of south London cheek by jowl to a vast number of neighbours disturbing them with our smoke seems unfair. But the same principals can be adapted to construct a different meal that is still slow and relaxed and deeply pleasurable. Whatever the weather.

So with this in mind I planned an absolute feast for Sunday supper to welcome my sister who is here for a few days working. More often than not our barbies at home start with some kind of seafood - a huge bowl of fresh prawns to be devoured as fast as they can be shelled. The better you are the more you get. I think my aunt is still faster than the speed of light but the rest of us are catching up. With this in mind I decided that some cured salmon thinly sliced would be a delicate intro to dinner. The fish is cured with coriander and ginger overnight then laid out with a small bowl of pickled ginger and another of Japanese soy for dipping. Beautiful to look at - and consumed in a flash.

The main event was beef I had roasted in the afternoon so that it was still a little warm when it was sliced. To go with this I made a massed rainbow of salads. Little charlottes dressed with Helmans for a perfect potato salad, red onions roasted then topped with steamed beans and a little balsamic vinegar to dress them, crisp bright winter salad with carrots, fennel and celery glistening with spiced oil and, most striking of all a barley and beetroot salad studded with toasted walnuts. The idea came from The Guardians Word of Mouth blog after I asked for ideas for barley salad.

Barley and Beetroot Salad
200g pearl barley
1 raw beetroot about the size of a cricket ball
Handful of baby spinach leaves
50g walnuts
3 tbspns walnut oil
1 tbspn sherry vinegar
Salt and pepper

Cook the barley in simmering salted water for 30-40 minutes till it is swollen and retains only the smallest resistance when you bite into it. Peel and grate the beetroot. Wash the spinach and tear the leaves in half. Toast the walnuts in a dry pan till fragrant - but watch closely they burn in a flash.

When the barley is cooked drain and rinse in a colander and allow to cool. Tip it into a large bowl with the other ingredients. Mix the oil and vinegar with the salt and pepper and toss the salad till it is all amalgamated.

It keeps perfectly in the fridge for a few days. It was possibly better the next day as the colour was still jewel bright and the flavour had deepened. The spinach leaves made it look very pretty but didn't add much by way of flavour - next time (and there will definitely be a next time) I think I would use herbs - some basil perhaps or dill. The only other improvement would be to eat it outside in the sun with hot bbqed sausages or steaks!

Our meal ended with cheese and some chocolates rather than the traditional pavlova - but it's too early for strawberries so that will have to wait.

No comments: